I have been a Personal Trainer for 17 years, and full-time for at least 10. I have always been obsessed with weight loss and body transformation. From the moment I spotted the first bit of fat on my body (around 12-13 years old), I became hooked on exercise, calorie counting, and beating myself up in the mirror.
I was naturally ‘curvy’, meaning a bit soft and not very muscular. Being this shape in the 90’s meant not fitting into fashionable clothing brands, not being able to find bras and swimmers that fit, and finding that even the sportswear that did fit, made me look ‘chunky’. That’s what I thought anyways.
There was also ZERO representation of averaged-sized women in the media. Remember, no internet in the 90’s 😉
I bought into all the teen magazine hype and observed how ‘happy’ all the skinny girls in school seemed to be, and formed the belief that being skinnier would make me happier and that I would be treated more positively if I looked ‘better’. So I went about achieving the perfect ‘fitness body’. I was willing to do anything to achieve it, regardless of my overall health. I mean, health had no mention in the fitness world anyway; it was all about how you look.
I did get pretty close to reaching my ‘perfect body’ but I did so at the expense of health. What came as a rude shock is, I still hated my body, even at 12% body fat. I just saw more flaws. I still felt like an imposter. I still felt not good enough.
Body-image issues are rooted much deeper than outer appearance, and all women need to realise this.
How much does our body image impact our lives in general?
A study conducted by Dove including 13,000 participants, found that an astounding number of women and girls allow their body image issues to determine whether or not they participate in important life activities, and how they assert themselves or express their opinion to others.
It also stated that most women of this mindset will consciously stop themselves from eating, whether or not their health is at risk. These are disturbing statistics, but I see this kind of behaviour in the women I coach on a daily basis. As you can see, I also felt this way myself.
So this means that women aren’t reaching their full potential, when they’re constantly worrying about their bodies.
Are we actually happier when we are skinnier though? No, we are not.
Who, or what, is to blame?
We could certainly blame the media, who flood us with images of beautiful, unrealistic, heavily edited bodies. But that wont help us. Research into the topic, and deeper inquiry into my own issues lead me to understand that the problem is much deeper than ‘the media’.
Generally speaking, when we feel unhappy or out of control, we tend to turn our attention to the ‘outside’ world. We try to mold ourselves to what we believe is socially acceptable. We attach our unhappiness to tangible things that we have conscious control over – more money, fancy car, a hot body, etc.
We lose sight of what’s important and believe that by changing ourselves, we will somehow become happier, or more worthy. We forget that it’s who we are that counts the most.
When we are happy with how we look, the rest of the world mirrors back to us that exact same feeling. People love you, when you love you.
Being skinny will not make you happier, but being healthy will
By reaching a healthy weight (20-25% body-fat, or even up to 30% for some women), we are definitely closer to reaching our full potential due to increased energy, health, lowered inflammation, improved sleep, and the greater overall emotional wellbeing that accompanies hormone balance.
Achieving a healthy weight also requires us to develop a healthy relationship with food, which is never a bad thing.
What can I do to start healing my relationship with my body?
Firstly, stop looking at all these perfect women and wishing you could be just like them. Unfollow anyone that triggers you to feel low self-worth. Assuming they’re the picture of health and happiness can be detrimental, as you really don’t know what these people do behind closed doors. You can’t actually know if they’re a true inspiration to you, or if they are being honest.
Switch your focus from calorie restriction and crash dieting (and beating yourself up) and focus on improving your health and vitality. Work out how many calories you need to eat for optimal health and start re-fuelling. You body composition will change all by itself if once you start nourishing it. I get all of my clients to increase calories and nourish their bodies before focusing on weight loss goals.
Start looking within. Try to remember when it all started. Was it in school, or after carrying your first child? Was it something your mother always worried about? Once you identify where it started, you have better awareness and conscious awareness is the first piece of the puzzle when it comes to healing.
For me personally, when I started attacking my body I was already experiencing some depression and anxiety. I had very low self-esteem. I kind of just decided it was my body because it looked different to other girls’ bodies, and I fixated on it. Additionally, my mum always hated her body, and complained about being ‘fat’. In a way, making my body look good was my way of proving I was high value to the world around me.
How I coach women now
I still coach body transformation, even after this journey. I love it still and love working with women to optimize their health and body composition. I see it as kind of art form, a fun project you can work on and that you can carry around with you everywhere you go.
What I have changed though, is my approach. I replaced the all-or-nothing, get-the-best-body-in-the-shortest-amount-of-time-possible approach, with one that focuses on reaching goals in a healthy way – adequate calories, no overtraining, and with a positive view of self. Almost always with my clients, some work has to be done here in the beginning stages, but the end result is that we build bodies they love and in a healthy way.
It is unfortunate that we live in a world that values appearance over health, but it is pretty inescapable, especially with the addition of social media. Rather than getting angry about, it, or feeling victimised by it, we need to find our space within it to heal and nourish ourselves, so that when we see these ‘perfect’ women, we still feel great about our amazing selves!